For almost 20 years, the American designer Stephen Burks has been fascinated with combining aspects of handcraft with industrial design. His pioneering point of view is now being celebrated with his first major institutional show in over a decade, on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta until 5 March 2023. Titled ‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’, the exhibition takes a look back at the last decade of Burks’ practice and brings together over 50 objects drawn from his key projects, as well as from a new commission, also named ‘Shelter in Place’. Viewed through a refreshed lens, Burks’ work demonstrates how his approach has consistently united art, architecture, design, craft, industry and community in one graceful swoop.
By honing in on and incorporating the handmade into industrial work, Burks has not only forged a path for other American designers to follow, but created a memorable creative signature for himself. No stranger to working with global manufacturers like Cappellini, Dedon,
‘Stephen Burks Man Made was founded on the notion that everyone is capable of design,’ Burks recounts in an essay titled ‘Prototyping in Place’ that appears in the exhibition’s companion catalogue. ‘We believe that design is cultural production, and like art, literature, and music, it has the opportunity to represent everyone’s culture. With this in mind, we try to use design as a language capable of speaking about more than color, form, materiality, and process.’
He continues, ‘As Americans, we cannot afford to leave our history behind, but we can be in control of how we carry it forward with us. As African Americans, we must continue to rely on our collective imagination to design new ways of being in community and society with each other as well as our past, present, and future.’
‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’
Put together on the back of the global upheaval we all experienced in 2020, ‘Shelter in Place’ confronts many of the disparities in society, industry, creative work and beyond. By grouping objects in themes such as ‘craft as collaboration’, ‘modernist orthodoxies’, ‘weaving as metaphor’ and ‘environmental inclusion’, Burks’ industrial design practice is framed in a larger cultural context for the first time. It was during the early phase of the global pandemic that the High Museum’s curator of decorative art and design, Monica Obniski began conversations with Burks and his team to explore bringing an exhibition to life.
‘Through this exhibition, and its related publication, I’m thrilled to shed light on an American designer who has developed a unique point of view during nearly 20 years in the field,’ she says. ‘It is really important for our audiences to understand that architecture and design cross cultural and national boundaries. This is especially true for Burks’ practice that examines how objects are made by bringing together diverse perspectives and talents.’
In addition to debuting